52 Ancestors: Week 41 – Finding Context with BC Newspapers

The prompt for Week 41 of 52 Ancestors is \”context\”. Sometimes its not enough to know the specific events of your ancestor\’s life. You also have to look at why they did what they did. My future great great grandchildren will probably wonder how I ended up in my new home province. Now, as a good family historian, I will be leaving them the reasons why. Unfortunately our ancestors weren\’t so accommodating. It\’s up to us to make educated guesses, and look into records that us some context about what their world was like.

A great way to find out about the social history of our ancestors is through newspapers. If you have British Columbia ancestors, you\’ll want to bookmark the University of British Columbia\’s BC Historical Newspapers website.


One of the UBC\’s Open Collections, the site has had over 10 million image views and over 240,000 downloads. It has 51,093 digitized copies of 168 different newspapers that cover most of the province. I was happy to see some Northern BC historical papers in the collection, as the north of the province is often ignored here. The majority of the newspapers cover the south of the province.

I have a half great uncle, Robert Simpson Douglas. Born 1905 in Scotland as Robert Simpson Herd, he was a son of the first marriage of my great grandmother Mary Black McArthur. He emigrated to Canada as a British Home Child and ended up reuniting with his mother in Canada. He took the last name Douglas from my great grandfather James Henry Douglas, who seems to have unofficially adopted him and his brother, another British Home Child. A mining engineer, Robert ended up migrating from Ontario to British Columbia. He passed away in Vancouver in 1975. I decided to look into the newspapers available to see if I could find mention of him, his wife Matilda \”Tilly\” Patton, or his son George Robert Douglas. there are several ways you can search.

General Search
I used the general search first. The trick with the general search is to use quotations. Just typing in Robert Douglas will give me results showing all papers with both Robert and/or Douglas. By using \”Robert Douglas\” I can narrow down the results considerably. Robert moved from Ontario to BC sometime between 1937 and 1953. His son George was born in Kirkland Lake Ontario in 1937, and I first found Robert in BC Voter\’s Lists in 1953. I then filtered the results further by newest to oldest. You can do this by using the filter just to top right of the results:


Now in the results, you don\’t want to click on the title of the paper. That will take you to the first page of that particular issue. What you want to do is click on the Show Details button. This will give you more information and the page that the result appears on.


Then click on the page number. This will then take you to the page the result is on. You can zoom in and out, and you can also download the image to your computer.

Search by Newspaper


As you can see from the map above, there is an interactive map on the website to help you narrow down which newspapers they have from your ancestor\’s area. You can either click on the newspaper name, or click on one of the location pins. A window will pop up with the name of the paper. Then click on the explore button to go to that paper\’s search page.

I chose The Mining Review out of Sandon BC. I did not expect to find information of my great uncle because of the publication dates. However, it might give me some insight in the history of mining in the province. Once I went to The Mining Review page, you have two options. You can use a search term in the box at the top of the page:


Or, you can scroll down and browse by individual issues. Just click on a year, then one of the highlighted boxes for an individual issue:

I used search first. I used the term engineer. The search results page works exactly the same as I described above when using the General Search. What I found in the \”Mines and Mining\” column on October 27 1900 was a tidbit about mining engineer Alex Sharpe. He was in the area looking over operations on behalf of the Burns-Wilson syndicate. But what I found farther down the page was really interesting:

\”…The Noonday mine at Silverton, another property that paid the large wage for the short day during the lockout, and whose manager used to say could do it with profit, is in serious financial difficulties; and it is a question if the ownership is not changed all around before all is over…\”

Now for me, the mention of a lockout is interesting. If I had a mining ancestor in that area and time period, I would want to research that lockout. To be honest, I want to anyway.

All in all this is a great site. It is very user friendly. As well, the images are very clear and crisp. I looked through several papers, and I did not find a bad image once. Underneath the images are the metadata information. You should have no problem doing source citations from the information given.

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